Sunday, January 10, 2016

The Internet has made me Stupid and Lazy

I used to feel smart.

Actually, I used to feel like my intelligence was the best thing about me. I have never felt awesome about how I look, and I've never really felt like I fit in or felt cool with other people. But I managed to maintain a decent level of self esteem anyway, because I felt like I had a good brain. I always did well in school, I liked to read and write, and I felt like I could usually contribute to intellectual conversations. Sometimes I even had good ideas of my own.

Proof that I was smart at something as recently as 1994

I don't really feel like that anymore. My brain feels shallow and foggy.  I think it has a lot to do with the fact that I am addicted to social media. I can admit that. I think in sentences, not paragraphs. I know the headline, but not the full story. I have a hard time paying attention to anything for very long. I forget how to spell things. I feel like something in my brain has gone numb, and that really scares me. Sometimes I find myself losing full hours scrolling through funny memes on Instagram, or just switching between Facebook and Instagram and not really thinking about anything at all. I've read enough futuristic dystopian novels to know that that's what the end of humanity looks like. Everyone looking at their screens and technology instead of paying attention to what's actually going in the world. The placated masses.
My favourite book
I feel bad that I've become stupid. But in a way, getting likes and comments on Facebook and Instagram has temporarily, artificially satisfied my need to actually accomplish anything. I think it's pretty obvious that we are seeking some sort of validation through the things we post on social media. But validation of what? When I'm putting so much thought into cultivating an online persona, what effect does it have on me in the real world? If you're constantly putting yourself out there, when are you taking the time to refill, learn something new, figure out what matters to you outside of getting likes on your selfie?

I think there's more to it than vanity though. What are we really trying to accomplish by sharing so much on the internet? I think that Facebook, Instagram, etc. give us this illusion of being connected to one another. But we're actually often reaching for this connection from a place of loneliness, having lost our sense of community and really becoming very disconnected from one another, because we've substituted our phones for real human interaction. We post pictures of things we like, quotes that inspire us and articles that matter to us because we are desperate just for someone to know who we are. Do you see me? Do you understand me? The collection of likes are somehow supposed to replace a real human connection, but they always miss the mark.

One of the most rewarding experiences I've had in the past few years was when I was going through training to volunteer at a sexual assault centre. In our training sessions we sat in a big circle, and everyone got a chance to talk and everyone else listened. We covered some really heavy topics, like racism, homophobia, abuse and suicide. We didn't always agree on everything, but that was ok. It was one of the only times in my life that I've had a chance to sit with REAL people in a REAL space and talk about things that mattered to all of us. The best part was that we weren't just shooting the shit for the sake of hearing our own voices. Everything we were talking about was leading up to actually doing something to help people. On social media, we constantly post articles and argue about various issues, but what's the point? Where is the action connected to these things we supposedly care so much about?  In theory, I love that there is a public forum where everyone can have a voice-that's so democratic! But in practice it's a total mess. Everyone is yelling and no one is listening, and nothing is getting done.

 I've had enough. I'm tired of feeling stupid and numb. I'm not quitting social media anytime soon. But I've made a rule for myself. As soon as I find that I am scrolling through Instagram or Facebook aimlessly, I need to put my phone down and pick up a book and read, or pick up a pen and write.
From @sonny5ideup on Instagram
 In the past month I have read five books and written dozens of pages of my own thoughts (I'm relieved to find that I am still capable of thought). I already feel like maybe I haven't completely destroyed my brain. Maybe one day I can even feel smart again.

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